Let’s face it. There are SO many labels out there. It can be a bit overwhelming trying to figure out which is best.
Is local better than organic? What does “sustainable” mean, anyway?
Luckily, the season of farmers markets is now upon us, and takes some of the guesswork out of grocery shopping. If you can frequent your local farmers market on a regular basis, you support local agriculture. You will be eating vegetables and fruit that have far more nutrients than most of what you can obtain at the average supermarket.
Companion Planting for the Win!
You probably knew that supporting the local economy is generally the right thing to do. But why do those fruits and vegetables grown right nearby have more nutritional value than those trucked in from far away? There are a few reasons behind this, one being companion planting.
Smaller, local farms tend to have a wide variety of fruits and vegetables that are planted strategically in order to maintain the nutrient level of the soil and deter pests naturally. This is often done without the addition of pesticides that are harmful to us and the farm’s surrounding environment. If you’ve ever had tomatoes and basil together (Caprese salad, anyone?), or delighted over a stew of corn, beans, and squash – then you might be eating the result of companion planting.
The method in which corn, beans, and squash work together is fascinating. The Native Americans called this trio “The Three Sisters.” They discovered early on that the three vegetables were a perfect complement. The corn stalks act as a natural pole for the bean vines to climb, and the beans fix nitrogen in the soil – which is a nutrient that the corn tends to deplete. Since the vines and large leaves of the squash plants spread over the remaining ground, they deter weeds from growing underneath. They also help keep the soil moisture steady, since the hot sun isn’t beating down on the bare earth. How amazing is that?!
Not exactly the kind of working relationship you’ll find in massive expanses of just one crop. You get maximum nutritional value from each plant since all that nitrogen stays in the soil and no weed-killers had to be used.
Bigger Doesn’t Necessarily Mean Better
When farms concentrate simply on one crop (i.e. corn), they lose the benefits of companion planting. They turn towards genetically-modified seeds, chemicals, and heavy irrigation in order to maximize their crop yields. By doing this, the taste and nutritional value of the crop falls dramatically. Have you ever had a tiny, just-picked wild strawberry? Can you remember the intense pop of flavor that is oh-so-quintessentially summer?
Now compare that to the watery, bland, hard strawberry purchased in the middle of winter that has traveled thousands of miles to be sold in your local supermarket. There’s no comparison, both in taste and and in nutritional content. That wild strawberry has had to fight to survive. It dug its roots deep in the soil to seek out water and nutrients. It has found what it needs to live all on its own. All that hard work is concentrated in wee little strawberries that each pack more flavor and nutrients than an entire quart of winter strawberries, alone!
The winter strawberry has been genetically modified to be bigger (bigger is always better, right?!?), watered regularly, and sprayed with pesticides. This is so that it doesn’t have to fight to survive. It just sits there fat and happy until it’s ready to be shipped off in its plastic container. These berries are also picked far before optimal ripeness, in order to be able to survive the long journey. There’s just no way they can even begin to compare to a just-picked local strawberry that explodes with summery juiciness between your teeth.
Local, Organic, Sustainable – What’s the Difference, Anyway?
Local farmers do, for the most part, tend to be organic. However, quite a few of them can’t afford the very expensive certification that is needed to label their product “organic.” They’ll use organic practices and actually tend to be far more sustainable than their large, certified organic counterparts. A very large, organic farm focused on just producing organic mesclun can refrain from using pesticides and utilize organic farming practices. However, they might not use sustainable farming practices that ensure that each bite of organic mesclun on your plate is packed with essential vitamins and minerals.
Sustainable farming practices generally means letting fields lay fallow for a year. During this time, a cover crop such as rye or vetch is grown in order to return depleted nutrients to the soil. If the farmer is only looking to make as much money as possible, they might skip this practice and keep working the nutritionally-depleted soil. This allows them to grow as many cash crops as they can. Smaller, local farmers, however, tend (for the most part) to care more about the integrity of their soil. They understand that it can only last for a limited amount of time if they don’t let it rest once in a while. They might make a bit less money, but their produce will be packed with the nutrients that we need.
Eating Seasonally – Better for Your Body and Your Wallet
There is a reason that fresh, sprightly, greens are in abundance in the spring. Grounding, hearty root vegetables make their appearance in the fall. Leafy greens help our bodies alkalize and detox after a winter diet of comfort food. Root vegetables ground us in the fall and prepare us for the cold weather to come. During the summer, fruits and vegetables such as watermelon, cucumber, and sweet peppers help hydrate and cool us while the sun is beating down on us. And of course there’s the wonderful fact that eating seasonally is a bit easier on your wallet!
Those organic apples that you pay $3.50/lb for in the middle of the winter are about a third of the price in the fall when they’re freshly picked and in abundance. Also, if you’re looking to make some jam or sauce, you can generally get large quantities of less-than-perfect berries or tomatoes for prices that can’t be beat!
Go to Your Local Farmers Market!
Besides the added bonus of getting to know the people that grow your food, local farmers markets also create a sense of community in a time where this can be sorely lacking.
How many of you (especially those of you living in big, bustling cities) actually know your neighbors? Seeing farmers and market attendees on a weekly basis can result in a wonderful familiarity that few of us have with the people living around us. It doesn’t have to be a deep connection – sometimes it’s just saying “hi” to a person you saw last week that gives you a feeling of community.
Everyone there has a common interest (good, local food!), and that ties you all together and creates a mutual bond. And if you don’t know what to do with that odd-looking vegetable that you see at one of the stands? I’m sure the farmer who grew it would be more than happy to give you some suggestions 🙂 That’s definitely something you don’t usually get at the supermarket!
Supplementation is (Often) Necessary
Unfortunately, not all of us can always get nutrient-packed local produce.
Long work days, busy schedules, and even living somewhere that doesn’t have local farmers markets can mean it can be difficult to procure those amazing fruits and vegetables that keep popping up on your Instagram feed throughout the summer. Sadly, it’s also the case that our soil is, on the whole, starting to become nutritionally depleted due to overuse.
Our local farmers are doing their best to restore integrity to the soil, but they’re just a small part of the equation. This is where nutritional supplementation is key. We here at Tranquility Labs have some amazing products that can play a huge part in restoring balance and filling in nutritional voids. Since we’re also focused on the quality of the product, they’re a great addition to the healthy eats you’re already putting in your belly!
What’s your favorite part of going to a farmers market? Why? Please share your thought with the community in the comments below!